Posts Tagged ‘Kings’

Morning shootaround — Nov. 30

VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 29

Kupchak knew all along this season was Kobe’s last | Warriors will experiment without Barnes | Kobe’s long walk has finally begun | Kings try to stay strong without Cousins

No. 1: Kupchak knew all along this season was Kobe’s last — The timing might have caught some off guard. But Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak knew all along that this season would be Kobe Bryant’s last in the NBA and in purple and gold. Kobe’s Sunday announcement, via poem on the Players’ Tribune website, stunned many in the sports world, though not anyone paying close attention to the struggles Kobe and the young and inexperienced Lakers have been going through. And certainly not Kupchak, whose charge it will be to craft the post-Kobe rebuilding plan in Los Angeles.’s Baxter Holmes was there for Kupchak’s media session Sunday that provided some perspective on the past 19-plus years, the announcement and perhaps most important, what comes next:

Reaction [to the news]?

Kupchak:I’m not surprised. The surprising part of this is that he made the announcement today. My understanding all along was that this was going to be his last year. Certainly there’s been speculation and this puts an end to any speculation that he may come back for another year. But it was my understanding all along.

Right time?

Kupchak: We didn’t make it any easier for him with the group we have on the court. And that’s not to say that they’re not a talented group of players, but they’re certainly young and unaccomplished.

Awkward having Kobe and the young players — that balance?

Kupchak:It is awkward. It’s awkward, but there was really no other way to go about it. When you have a player of Kobe’s caliber that wants to continue to play and you think he can play at a high level, you’re going to let him play until he no longer wants to play. Yet it’s clear that we had to begin the process to rebuild the team. Now we were hopeful that we would get off to a better start this year. We think we added a couple veterans, along with a bunch of young players, and I thought we’d be better than two wins into the season. That’s not to say that we’d be on pace to win 50 or 60 games. But I thought we’d be a little bit better. But clearly we’re not playing at the kind of level that a player of Kobe’s age and experience finds challenging.

[It’s] kind of like, there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. I’m not surprised that he would make the announcement now. I think the game will be easier for him now. I think he’l be able to enjoy the rest of the season. We haven’t had a chance to huddle up to see if we’ll use him any differently in terms of minutes. I don’t think that’s something that’s going to be decided today. But since he has made it clear [that] this is the last season for him, I think it will be more enjoyable. I think people will appreciate what he’s accomplished, not only in our building, which has always been [filled] with loads of love, but I think more so on the road.

Want him to change his approach and not be so shot-heavy?

Kupchak: I gave up hoping he would change his approach like 15, 18 years ago. He is what he is, and I’m thankful for it.

[When did you] find out the news?

Kupchak: This afternoon. My son is a freshman in college right now. He’s going to be 20 and he was born on the night of Kobe’s first game. So I did not see Kobe’s first game. So that kind of puts it in perspective. Twenty years. I have a son who’s a freshman in college, and that’s how long he’s been playing.

What has he meant to Lakers?

Kupchak: It is impossible for me to sit here and describe what he’s meant. Five championships, 20 years, 17 All-Star Games. MVP trophy. I’ve watched him get hurt, play hurt. We’ve watched the last three years with serious injuries [and] having to come back. Most players would not come back. So it’s hard to describe in two or three minutes. But he’s a winner. And he came into this league with an unprecedented desire to compete and get better and be the best and he remains that exact same person today and that’s with the good and the bad that come with it. But he remains that exact same person.

Did you think it would be this hard?

Kupchak: When he tore his Achilles, it took me completely by surprise. In fact, I thought it was a sprained ankle … Until John Black came to me and he’s walking to the locker room, I thought it was a sprained ankle. And he was 35, 34 years old then. So it’s not that surprising to think after a serious injury at 35 years old. Your body has a way of compensating or under compensating — if you hurt this leg, then you lean more that way and now that leg gets hurt and so forth and so on … at least this is what [Lakers trainer] Gary Vitti tells me. So it’s not that surprising that one injury would lead to another. Inactivity for half a year, then come back — there’s no way to duplicate an NBA game. And he’s 36, 37. How surprising can it be?

Watching him last 15 games?

Kupchak: Like everybody else, I go back and forth. I talk to Kobe about it and he says it’s timing and getting my legs under me and conditioning, getting used to playing with different players. And I buy in. Then I watch the games on TV and I read the paper and I remind myself that he’s 37 years old and maybe it’s more than that. So I go back and forth on it.

What’s his role for the rest of the season?

Kupchak: Not sure yet. Once again, this is something that was brought to my attention late this afternoon and I have not discussed it with ownership or our coaches yet. I would hope that he has more fun and appears less frustrated and also gets more appreciation. He’ll get it at home, but on the road as well, because people will now have to recognize that this is the last year watching one of the all-time greats.

VIDEO: Kobe Bryant speaks on his decision to retire at the end of this season


No. 2: Warriors will experiment without Barnes in the lineup — The Golden State Warriors will have to continue their undefeated march without Harrison Barnes for at least a week. It’s a basketball experiment the versatile and deep Warriors are prepared to deal with, but not one they are necessarily looking forward to. Barnes has fantastic start to his season and has played a huge role in the Warriors setting the record for the best start in NBA history. Now comes the tricky part for Luke Walton and Steve Kerr, figuring out what direction to go while Barnes rests that sprained ankle. Carl Steward of the Bay Area News Group has more:

Harrison Barnes had been such a reliable component to the Warriors’ rotations — 205 consecutive games, 120 straight starts — that they hadn’t needed to do a lot of lineup experimentation that didn’t include him.

That all changed when Barnes missed his first game in nearly three seasons Saturday against the Sacramento Kings. Interim coach Luke Walton, after brainstorming with ailing head coach Steve Kerr, went to a number of novel lineups either rarely employed or never seen before in achieving the team’s 18th win without a loss.

The lineup laboratory work likely will continue on the Warriors’ seven-game road trip, which begins Monday night in Salt Lake City against the Utah Jazz, for as long as Barnes is out with a left ankle sprain. That is expected to be at least a week, which will cover four games of the trip, and he could possibly miss them all even though he’ll be along for the entire ride.

Brandon Rush, who started in place of Barnes and delivered an explosive 7½-minute third quarter stint, wasn’t the only revelation. Big man Marreese Speights, who has been aching to get back in the mix, played 17 minutes and was effective, scoring 13 with five rebounds. Veteran guard Leandro Barbosa played 21 minutes, including a good chunk alongside Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

Even end-of-the-bench guard Ian Clark got some important time, playing alongside Curry and Thompson in a three-guard alignment. Within the groupings, Draymond Green played both big and small forward, and Speights played both center and power forward.

“It’s kind of a learning curve right now, because we use Harrison at so many different positions, we’ve got to find rotations that we haven’t had to use before,” Walton said. “So we’re going to keep trying different things.

“We know we’re going to need contributions from Mo and other guys so we’re going to keep getting them out there,” he continued. “If it ends up an awkward lineup, we’re going to ride with it for awhile and see how it goes. We’ll get a better feel for life without Harrison until we can get him back.”


No. 3:Kobe’s long walk has finally begun — Father Time finally got his hands on Kobe Bryant and refused to let go. The news that this would be his final season hit hard in Los Angeles, where the love for Bryant is just about the only thing the masses in the Southland agree upon. Longtime Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke offers his unique perspective on the moment:

Bryant’s jersey will be going from his back into the Staples Center rafters, and his body will leave the court and be immediately bronzed for a Staples Center statue.

“I was shocked,” Coach Scott said upon hearing the news. “And then after I had a chance to kind of think about it, I was sad.”

There would have been more sadness in watching Bryant, whose $25-million-a-year deal expires after this season, attempt to earn another contract. Now, perhaps for the first time in the career of one of the greatest competitors in any sport, he can relax and enjoy the ride. Maybe, too, fans of opposing teams who have jeered him can enjoy that ride with him.

“The game will be easier for him now. I think he’ll be able to enjoy the rest of the season,” Kupchak said. “I hope he has more fun and appears less frustrated and gets more appreciation. People will now have to recognize this is his last year and they’re watching one of the all-time greats.”

An outpouring of affection from notoriously tough New York fans during the Lakers’ recent visit to Madison Square Garden felt like the beginning of the farewell tour. The first stop on the now-official tour will be Tuesday in Philadelphia, where Bryant attended high school.

The last stop will be at Staples Center on April 13 against the Utah Jazz, an otherwise meaningless game that will become one of the hottest tickets in Los Angeles sports history.

In the months between those games, here’s hoping Lakers fans will stop complaining about how Bryant is stealing minutes from the team’s younger players and hindering the team’s ability to rebuild. With his retirement imminent and the Lakers’ playoff hopes already dashed, here’s hoping fans will now cheer for Bryant to play as many minutes as his body will allow, understanding that they will never see a player like him again.

Even in his struggles, there is a certain nobility to Bryant attempting to squeeze the final ounces of greatness out of a body whose game has brought so much joy to so many.

“What we want from Kobe is basically his last game to be able to walk off the court, wave to all the fans, and be able to go into the locker room standing up,” Scott said.

That long walk has now begun.


No. 4:Kings try to stay strong without Cousins — Before this season there was a healthy debate about whether or not the Sacramento Kings would be better off without their enigmatic big man DeMarcus Cousins. That debate ended weeks ago. The Kings are just 1-7 this season without Cousins in the lineup and are struggling to find their identity without arguably the best big man in the game healthy enough to set the tone this season. Cousins has missed three straight games (lower back strain) and is questionable for tonight’s game against Dallas. Kings coach George Karl insists his team has to stay the course until Cousins returns and is healthy enough to do what he does. But that’s easier said than done when Cousins isn’t in the mix, as Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee explains:

“I think you’ve just got to stay strong,” Karl said. “This is the time of the year where Cuz has missed (eight) games. We’ll get back on the right track, but right now we’ve got to hopefully get healthy with Cuz, and once he gets in the lineup, I think we’ll get our confidence in a good direction.”

The Kings appeared to be heading in a good direction last Monday. They had a 22-point lead at Charlotte and looked poised to win back-to-back road games.

But Cousins did not finish the game because of his back, and Sacramento blew the lead and lost. The Kings won at Milwaukee last Wednesday but have since lost to Minnesota and at the Warriors.

Sacramento is 1-7 without Cousins this season. His status for Monday’s home game against Dallas is uncertain.

The Kings touted their improved depth as being key to withstanding injuries, but replacing Cousins’ 27.9 points and 11.2 rebounds per game and his impact on defense is difficult.

“I think everybody knows that we’ve got to continue to keep our poise, staying together,” said guard Ben McLemore. “Even though we don’t have the big fella right now, we’ve still got talented guys who can go out there and compete every night.”

The Kings avoid panicking by keeping perspective. Since starting the season 1-7, they have gone 5-5, so they feel they’re improving.

And they realize they will have issues over the course of the season.

“Never too high, never too low,” said guard Rajon Rondo. “It’s a long season There will be ups and downs; it’s a roller coaster. Hopefully we can get this thing smoothed out pretty soon.”

The Kings could use a stretch of improved health and better defense to begin meeting their expectations.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Just so we’re absolutely clear on what Kobe Bryant has accomplished in his stellar career, take a look at Kobe by the numbersMike Dunleavy‘s return from back surgery might have hit a bit of a snag, as the Bulls’ swingman is set to see doctors today about sorenessJahlil Okafor is in desperate need of some veteran assistance in that Philadelphia locker room, so says a couple of former prized veterans who helped their teams to championships … A strange scheduling quirk to test the Oklahoma City Thunder, who visit the Atlanta Hawks tonight at Philips Arena … No fear! The Utah Jazz are eager for a crack at the undefeated Golden State Warriors … Check out these archival images of Larry Bird like you’ve never seen him before

ICYMI of the Night: Dwight Howard welcomed Kristaps Porzingis to the NBA with a wicked facial …

VIDEO: Dwight Howard smashes all over Kristaps Porzingis


Morning shootaround — Oct. 12

VIDEO: Highlights from games played Oct. 11


Harden exits preseason game with bruished right knee | No timetable for Kerr’s return | Kobe has no plan to rest in preseason, or at all | DeMarcus Cousins is living the big man’s dream

No. 1: Harden exits game with bruised right knee — Houston Rockets held their collective breath for a moment Sunday when James Harden suffered a right knee contusion in the first half of a preseason game against Orlando and did not return. Harden played just 13 minutes in the game, a 123-119 loss. Of greater concern for the Rockets, of course, is making sure Harden’s bruised knee is healthy and ready to go when the regular season starts, as the Houston Chronicle‘s Jonathan Feigen explains:

Suddenly, the to-do list, with all those check marks right where the Rockets would have wanted them, was meaningless. The first line, where the goal listed was to stay healthy, had made everything else too secondary to celebrate.

The Rockets had gone from clicking to limping when James Harden and Orlando Magic guard Evan Fournier collided late in the first half, with Harden slowly walking off with a bruised right knee.

Rockets coach Kevin McHale said that he had been given no update on the severity of the injury after the Magic had rallied back from a 22-point first-quarter deficit to take a 123-119 win. Harden left without speaking, but did not seem to have difficulty walking.

Rockets players did not seem overly concerned, offering an indication of Harden’s reaction.

“He said it’s not really that serious,” Rockets guard Ty Lawson said. “We just want him to get better and get healthy so he can get back to playing well.”

The Rockets began the game playing exceptionally well, but that soon became secondary to one fast break and one slow walk to the locker room.

Harden had just returned to the game with four minutes left in the half when he lost the ball on a drive and never quite got in front of Fournier on a break the other way. Fournier’s left leg banged into the side and back of Harden’s right, and both went down. Harden limped behind the baseline floor seats at State Farm Arena and then straight to the locker room with a shout that sounded more from frustration than pain.

“You kind of know if it’s serious,” said Corey Brewer, who was waiting to check in for Harden before Harden even reached mid-court. “I think he just bumped it a bit. Preseason lasts a long time. He has time to heal.”

VIDEO: James Harden bumps his knee vs. Magic


No. 2: No timetable for Kerr’s return — A rare spinal fluid leak during July surgery on a ruptured disc in his back is the cause for Steve Kerr‘s indefinite leave of absence from the Golden State Warriors, Kerr told reporters at the team’s practice Sunday. Kerr went into detail about the cause of his absence to clear up any confusion and to reiterate that there is no timetable for his return. Diamond Leung of The Bay Area News Group has more:

Eleven days after the Warriors announced Kerr would temporarily step aside to focus on rehabilitation, he gave his first interview after Sunday’s practice and detailed why he doesn’t know when he will return to coach the team.

“The leak is fixed, but still getting some symptoms,” Kerr said of his follow-up surgery early last month. “And that’s why I’m out.

“And because I’m still having symptoms, it makes it difficult for me to be on the floor. And so the prospects are good. I’m going to heal. The doctor says everybody’s body is different. It’s a matter of your body sort of recalibrating. And unfortunately, it’s not like a sprained ankle, one to two weeks. There’s no telling. It’s a little bit open-ended, but everybody’s very confident everything will be fine.”

Kerr said he has not questioned his long-term future as a coach going through the grind of an NBA schedule.

“I’m 50 years old,” he said. “I’m in good shape. I’m in good overall health. This is a unique circumstance, and once it’s resolved, I’ll be fine.”

Kerr said he wanted to be upfront with fans and media members about his condition after declining an interview request Friday while attending the Cal volleyball match.

“I’m not going to put a timetable on when I’m going to come back,” Kerr said. “I have to get my health right before I can coach the team, before I can bring the energy that’s necessary to coach the team.

“When you are forced to be away, it hurts.”

GameTime’s crew discuss Steve Kerr’s injury and how it affects the team


No. 3: Kobe has no plans to rest in preseason, or at all — Easing into his 20th NBA season is not the way Kobe Bryant plans on doing things for the Los Angeles Lakers. In fact, he’s doing anything but this preseason, and according to coach Byron Scott, has not even discussed it. Mark Medina of The Los Angeles Daily News has more:

As he sheds off rust without showing any setbacks with his surgically repaired right shoulder, Kobe Bryant left the Lakers feeling encouraged for two reasons.

In the Lakers’ 126-83 victory over Maccabi Haifi on Sunday at Staples Center, Bryant took advantage against the Israeli professional team by posting a team-leading 21 points on 6-of-10 shooting, 4-of-6 from 3-point range and 5-of-5 from the foul line in 19 minutes. Lakers coach Byron Scott also reported feeling “very optimistic” that he will play in all of the team’s four remaining preseason contests.

“He wants to play every game,” Scott said.

That seems unlikely to happen, though, for the 82-game regular season. Bryant may sit out for at least a portion of the Lakers’ 18 sets of back-to-backs.

“We haven’t talked about that yet,” Scott said. “I talked to him a week ago and said, ‘We need to sit down and talk about back-to-backs and pick and choose which ones you’ll play in and which ones you’ won’t.”

VIDEO: Kobe Bryant talks after the Lakers’ preseason win


No. 4: DeMarcus Cousins is living the big man’s dream — Sacramento Kings coach George Karl clearly knows the way to his big man’s heart. All he had to do was get DeMarcus Cousins out of the paint to make the Kings’ All-NBA center to smile. Cousins has been experimenting with his perimeter game during this preseason and it’s not just a gimmick. He’s polishing up his handle and working on his shot from deep as he dives into every big man’s dream. Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee has the details:

Cousins will not be shunning the post this season. But coach George Karl has said he will move Cousins all over the court. That includes allowing Cousins to shoot threes.

So meet Cousins, the floor spacer. He has never liked being labeled as just a post player, so this season he will have the opportunity to show he’s more than that.

“I don’t really consider myself a center,” Cousins said. “I’m just a basketball player. There’s so much I can do on the floor. People get stuck on the word ‘center,’ ‘big man’ and (are) kind of ignorant to the situation. I can’t really worry about that. I just go out there and do my job.”

And like anyone else, when there are changes to the job, there is an adjustment.

“It’s weird kind of floating out there,” Cousins said. “It’s a different thing, but I know it’s going to help the team, too. It’s just something I’ve got to adjust to and get used to.”

“It’s fun, but it’s also a process,” Cousins said. “This is my first time, but this is what the preseason is for, to knock the rust off, figure each other out and hopefully prepare for how we’re going to play during the season. I think we’re on the right path.”

When Karl was hired last February, he said he thought Cousins could be just as good a face-up player as he is in the post. Karl was also intrigued with Cousins’ ability to dribble and pass the ball.

“I do have those skills but it’s still an adjustment,” Cousins said. “This isn’t just pickup at the park, it’s an adjustment.”

Cousins’ expanded freedom on the court will cause a problem for defenses. Teams that defend Cousins with a bigger player will have to deal with how to match up with him on the perimeter.

If teams counter with a smaller player, Cousins can work closer to the basket where his size and strength are advantages.

“I think Cuz will figure out a balance between what shots we want from him,” Karl said. “Some teams will let him go outside, some teams will let him go inside.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The NBA has extended the deadline for rookie deal extensions to Nov. 2 due to the normal Halloween deadline falling on a weekendLeBron James, aka “JP,” went full prohibition era (“Boardwalk Empire” style) for his good friend’s birthday party over the weekend. Hair piece and all … Milwaukee swingman Marcus Landry is right where he wants to be with the hometown Bucks … Are you tired of the preseason chatter between the Warriors and Clippers coach Doc Rivers? Good, because Rivers tried to clear the air a bit from ChinaDerrick Rose went all in for his son P.J. and his monster Ninja Turtles birthday party …

Morning Shootaround — August 10

VIDEO: LeBron James’ top 10 plays from the playoffs

MJ says he’d beat LeBron 1-on-1 | Exum injury doesn’t destroy Jazz | Time to make room for women coaches in NBA


No. 1: MJ says he’d beat LeBron 1-on-1, all-time Bulls would top all-time Lakers — When Michael Jordan speaks, we all listen. And he said plenty over the weekend at his annual Flight School, answering plenty of pertinent questions for the campers in attendance, including how he’d handle LeBron James in a game of 1-on-1 in his prime and responded to Shaq‘s challenge in regards to how the all-time great Bulls teams would fare against an all-time great team of Los Angeles Lakers. He poked Kobe Bryant, too, and even discussed Kwame BrownPatrick Dorsey of has the details: 

What did I think about when Shaq said that the all-time five of the greatest Lakers could beat the Bulls’ five greatest players?

“I just felt like he was just talking. It’s a debate. The thing is that we would never know. I think we would have killed them. He thinks they would have killed us. You guys decide. It’s just a debate.”

Favorite player to play pick-up games with?

“My best pick-up game I’ve ever played was the games and the practices with the [1992] Dream Team. … My team was myself, Scottie Pippen, Patrick Ewing, Larry Bird and Chris Mullin. We played against Magic Johnson, Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, David Robinson — that’s five, right? — and we killed ’em.

Note: That’s not five; the other player team’s fifth had to be either Karl Malone, John Stockton or Christian Laettner. There’s also a chance Jordan is misremembering a bit, and he’s talking aboutthis scrimmage covered in-depth by Sports Illustrated, which featured a Jordan-Malone-Ewing-Pippen-Bird five against Magic, Barkley, Robinson, Mullin and Laettner (although a 40-36 final score in favor of Jordan’s team hardly constitutes a “killing.”)

If I had the chance to go one-on-one with Steph Curry or LeBron, which one would I choose to go one-on-one with?

“Right now, or when I was in my prime? Right now? Buddy, I couldn’t beat — well, I’d go against [Stephen] Curry because I’m a little bit bigger than him. So I could kind of back him in. But LeBron is a little bit too big.”

[Note: Take that, 34 percent of America.]

If I had a chance to add another member to team Jordan, who would I hire?

“I’m a big fan of [Mike] Trout, the baseball player. I absolutely love him. I wish I could hire him. But he’s Nike, so I can’t steal Nike’s guys.”

This is the ESPN question. I know it’s going to be all over ESPN. [Note: He was right.]If I was in my prime, could I beat LeBron in a one-on-one game?

[Long pause in which the campers mutter/shout their opinions.]

No question!

[Huge applause.]

What did I see in Kwame Brown when I drafted him [No. 1 overall for the Washington Wizards in 2001]?

“I, along with everybody that was in that draft room, wanted Kwame Brown because of his athleticism, his size, his speed. He was still a young talent, 18-year-old, 19-year-old kid.”

If you went back and you couldn’t play basketball or baseball, what sport would you play?

“Great question. I went to college, I got my degree in cultural geography, and everybody wanted to know what is cultural geography? Well it’s an introduction to meteorology. I always wanted to be the weather man. Don’t laugh. But that’s what I really wanted to do. So if I wasn’t playing basketball or baseball, I was going to tell you what the weather was going to be like tomorrow.”

[Note: Don’t think meteorology is a sport? Tell that to Jim Cantore!]

What kind of advice would I give Kobe Bryant?

[Uncomfortable laughter in the crowd.]

“Actually, Kobe and I are good friends. I like Kobe, we talk a lot, I hope he comes back healthy. I think he’s one of the great players of the game, I think he’s done a lot for the game, and he has a true love for the game of basketball. I absolutely have high regard for Kobe Bryant.

“Even though he stole all my moves, but that’s OK. I still love him like a brother.”

*** (more…)

Morning Shootaround — August 9

VIDEO: The Billy Donovan Era begins in Oklahoma City

Donovan vs. Stockton | Karl ready for Rondo | Duncan’s latest sacrifice


No. 1: When Billy the Kid met Stockton — Throughout his years as an ESPN color commentator, Jeff Van Gundy has made plenty of provocative statements. But maybe none was as off-the-wall crazy as those days nearly three decades ago when as a Providence College graduate assistant coach he told third-round NBA Draft choice Billy Donovan that he could go into the Jazz training camp and take that job from a young player named John Stockton. It’s all part of a wonderful profile package on the Thunder’s new head coach by the talented Darnell Mayberry in The Oklahoman:

But an unfavorable numbers game in Utah led Donovan to doubt he had a chance to see opening night. The Jazz already had 12 guaranteed contracts, and Donovan knew that in order to make the team someone else would need to be moved.

At least one person thought that could happen. It was Jeff Van Gundy, a graduate assistant during Donovan’s senior year at Providence. Van Gundy started chirping, gassing Donovan up about his chances as he helped prepare him for training camp.

“Jeff’s like, ‘Listen, man. I’m telling you. You’ve got a chance to make this team,’” Donovan remembered. “He said, ‘They’ve got a guy there that’s in, like, his third year named Stockton that I’m not so sure about. He hasn’t played very much.’

“Training camp starts and I call Jeff after, like, the first day of double sessions. I said, ‘Hey, Jeff, remember that comment you made to me about you’re not sure about Stockton? That’s the best guard I’ve ever played against in my entire life.’”

Donovan was waived three days before opening night. John Stockton went on to play his entire 19-year career in Utah, appearing in the third most games of all time while finishing as the NBA’s all-time assist leader.

“I’m not saying I didn’t say it, but I don’t remember saying anything specifically,” Van Gundy said of his alleged Stockton comment. “If I said something like that, I’m going to blame my sleep deprivation on coach (Rick) Pitino having us work 20 hours a night. That’s the only explanation for such a ludicrous statement like that.”


No. 2: Karl looks forward to the Rondo challenge — So much of the offseason talk about the Kings has focused on the rocky start to the relationship between coach George Karl and center DeMarcus Cousins. However, the dynamic between the fiery Karl and the independent Rajon Rondo will be just as critical to the success on the court next season in Sacramento. Speaking with Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe, Karl pointed to his previous relationships with other headstrong, volatile point guards as proof that they can thrive together:

“My feeling is that [Rondo’s] a pass-first point guard, which I think is important and I think in the end it really excites me,” Karl said. “We have two guys who can take control of the team and play together and keep the pace of the game. We can play with a lot of freedom and creativity but also play without turnovers.”

Asked how he sold Rondo on Sacramento after Rondo’s bad experience last season with Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, Karl said: “I just sold him on how I like to let my guys have freedom. I talked to him once before he signed and it’s going to be fun coaching him. I think he wants to lead our team but he also wants to be part of the decision-making, and that can be somewhat combustible but it can also work at a high level because I think we’re all trying to make the team the best.”

Karl pointed out his history of dealing with mercurial point guards during his 30-plus-year coaching career. The list is impressive.

“I had Gary Payton [in Seattle], Sam Cassell [in Milwaukee], Allen Iverson [in Denver], Chauncey Billups [in Denver]. Chauncey is challenging,” Karl said. “Andre Miller is probably not as challenging but he’ll be stubborn and wanting me to do it his way. I think all really good point guards have a trust and belief in themselves that sometimes causes conflict with the coaches.”


No. 3: Duncan ranks 6th on Spurs payroll — If you want to understand the full contribution of Tim Duncan to the success of the Spurs over the past two decades, it’s necessary to go beyond the shots, rebounds, blocks and solid defense. It is about his commitment to team and fostering an all-around attitude of sacrifice in the locker room. Nowhere is that more evident than in the very bottom line area of salary. According to the latest figures obtained by the great Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News, the future Hall of Famer has taken yet another pay cut to help the Spurs assemble their upgraded roster to challenge for a championship and will make less than even Danny Green and Boris Diaw in the 2015-16 season:

Duncan, the Spurs’ highest-paid player from 2003-04 through 2011-12, returns for his 19th season after agreeing to another major pay cut that paved that way for the acquisition of Aldridge. At $5.25 million, he will be the team’s sixth-highest paid player behind Aldridge, Leonard, Parker, Green, and Boris Diaw at $7.5 million.

Signed to the salary cap room exception, veteran guard Ginobili is on the Spurs’ books for slightly more than $2.8 million next season, a cut of roughly $4.2 million.

Both Duncan’s and Ginobili’s contracts are fully guaranteed for the 2016-17 season, and both can opt out of their deals next summer if they so choose.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Nancy Lieberman took the much longer road to reach the NBA … Lakers and Mavs are the frontrunners for Javale McGee … The Heat would love to unload Mario Chalmer’s contract to avoid cap hit … Jamal Crawford might have an eye on joining LeBron & Company in Cleveland … D’Angelo Russell dips into his bag of tricks at rookie photo shoot …. Dr. K?  Kristaps Porzingis gets a number change ... Pelicans make contract offer to veteran guard Jason Terry … Male dancer outshines the women at Miami Heat tryouts.

Morning shootaround — August 3

VIDEO: Steve Smith shines a light on the offseason winners and losers


Noah active, energized this summer | Thunder coach Donovan tough as they come | Okafor has great expectations for Sixers

No. 1: Noah active, energized this summer — Change has been good for Joakim Noah. The Chicago Bulls’ All-Star big man has been active this summer and energized this summer, both in the community and where basketball is concerned. Noah feels good. His mind is clear and his focus is sharp. And as far as his new coach, Fred Hoiberg, is concerned, the vibes are good. K.C. Johnson from the Chicago Tribune has more on Noah’s big summer:

Given that Joakim Noah spoke Saturday at an anti-violence community event his foundation organized, the Bulls’ big man placed last season’s personal struggles in perspective.

“Last year was a tough year for me. I feel it was very humbling,” Noah said. “We went through a lot. Right now, I’m feeling healthy both physically and mentally. I’m really excited about our upcoming opportunity. I never take anything for granted.”

Noah, who attended Saturday’s ONE CITY youth basketball tournament at the Major Adams Community Center near the United Center with his mother and sister, has been working out this offseason in California. Recently, new coach Fred Hoiberg visited.

He’s confident his summer at a sports science academy has put the health issues he experienced last season after May 2014 left knee surgery behind him.

“I feel great,” Noah said. “This is the first time I’ve taken a lot of time for myself to just focus on what I need to get done. Sometimes when you go through humbling experiences, (you) hungrier than ever. And I feel ready to prove I can help this team win big.”

Noah said he enjoyed “vibing” with Hoiberg.

“We got to break bread together,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed talking to the coaching staff, spending time with Fred. I think it’s going to be very different.”

Asked to elaborate, Noah smiled.

“Time will tell,” he said. “But it will definitely be different. We had a lot great times with Tom Thibodeau. He’s a great coach. I learned a lot from him. I’ve experienced a lot with him. I only have good things to say about him. I’m looking forward to this new chapter in my career.”

Before the tournament, Noah and his mother, Cecilia Rodhe, unveiled his Noah’s Arc Foundation’s latest public service announcement centered on its “Rock Your Drop” movement. It’s centered on peace, unity and positive change in the face of Chicago’s rampant gun violence.

Spike Lee, Bears running back Matt Forte, “Chicago Fire” actor David Eichenberg and St. Sabina’s Rev. Michael Pfleger are some of the spot’s prominent cameos.

“‘Rock Your Drop’ is a movement that started with my mother. It has been part of my vision as a basketball player since I was a kid,” Noah said. “For it to be finally here and feel this love really means so much to me and to my family. To launch this PSA is huge. To be able to play for the Chicago Bulls is something other than just basketball. When I see people wearing their drops, it means the world to me and my mom.”

Rodhe, an artist, chiseled the small drop out of stone 18 years ago. Noah wore one on a necklace.

“We’re all one. We’ve all been given life,” Rodhe said. “It doesn’t matter where we’re from. I’m from Sweden. You may say, ‘What are you doing here, blonde lady, on the South Side of Chicago? This isn’t your problem.’ I say no. When something is as strong as gun violence and you see the pain of moms, that’s all of ours problem.”

Noah is very hands-on with his foundation. He joked about converting now-teenage kids who razzed him about Kevin Durant fans five or six years ago.

“This will be my ninth season here and I don’t take that for granted,” Noah said. “Guys move around in my profession. They get traded. To be with a team for that long is special.

“I’m working as hard as I can on the court and this is a part of what I wanted to do since I started playing basketball. This is like home. We’ve been putting in a lot of work here. This is not a gimmick. It’s for the right reasons. To be able to do all this work makes me happy.”


No. 2: Thunder coach Donovan tough as they come — Anybody wondering what kind of transition Billy Donovan will make to the NBA after years as one of the nation’s elite college coaches need only peek into his past. Donovan is as tough as they come, having honed his game and his basketball sensibilities in Queens and, later, the Big East. If Donovan’s pedigree is any indication, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and the Co. are in good hands. Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman explains:

After the Big East formed in 1979, basketball interest in the northeast spiked. The early ‘80s produced a golden age for high school point guards in NYC, meaning the 1983 Wheelchair event, the 10th annual, was a must-see edition.

That graduating class had Dwayne “Pearl” Washington, the playground legend and soon-to-be Syracuse star, and future NBA starters Kenny Smith and Mark Jackson.

But it was a sub 6-foot white kid from an affluent area of Long Island who stole the show in that showcase game. His name was Billy Donovan.

“Oh, Billy went off,” said his high school teammate, Frank Williams.

Donovan’s Queens team faced the Brooklyn squad led by Pearl Washington, the game’s headliner. Months earlier, Donovan battled Washington’s in a six-quarter high school scrimmage. Pearl had 82 points.

“We pressed the whole game and he just weaved in and out,” Donovan said. “I learned a lot.”

Donovan was a game-control point guard. Slick ball-handling was his greatest strength. Pearl was a wizard with the ball, his moves legendary. At the Wheelchair Classic, Donovan put his mental notes from the scrimmage to use.

“I don’t think Pearl was ready for it,” Williams laughed.

In the highlight play of his highlight day, Donovan sent Pearl sprawling on a left-handed, inside-out crossover dribble, cruising past him for a layup.

“Pearl nearly fell down,” said Billy’s childhood best friend Kevin Quigley. “The crowd went nuts. Just hooting and hollering. The little white boy just juked Pearl out of his shoes.”

Billy Donovan made a career out of willing himself to success. Too small and athletically limited to compete against premiere athletes? He molded himself into a player and led Providence to an unlikely Final Four run. Florida is a second-tier hoops program at a football school? He quickly turned them into a national powerhouse. Too inexperienced to coach in the NBA? Sam Presti just handed him the keys to the most important season in the Thunder’s brief franchise history.

But before there was Billy Donovan the iconic coach or Billy The Kid bombing 3s at Providence College there was Billy the kid, a Long Island youth addicted to basketball.

“It was almost an obsession,” Quigley said.


No. 3: Okafor has great expectations for Sixers — Philadelphia 76ers rookie Jahlil Okafor is well aware of the struggles that have gone on prior to his arrival in the City of Brotherly Love. But that has not soured him on what could be. He has great expectations for what he and the Sixers will get done in his rookie season. Marc Narducci of the Philadelphia Inquirer has the details:

Okafor averaged 18.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in two Las Vegas Summer League games. Before that, he averaged 14.0 points and 8.3 rebounds in three summer league games in Utah.

“I was satisfied,” Okafor said of his summer performance. “I got better every game and worked on everything.”

Covington said Okafor has already made an impact.

“He has brought a whole lot of excitement to this team,” Covington said. “He is a big man who has made his presence known already.”

Another big man, Joel Embiid, will miss a second straight season because of another procedure on his foot.

“It is hard to do, but he is doing well, and he is keeping his head high,” Covington said.

Just as the focus last season was on Nerlens Noel, this season it will be on Okafor. He said he can’t wait to get settled in the Philadelphia area and is looking for a place to live.

Okafor won’t lack confidence. He expects a lot from a Sixers team coming off an 18-64 season. He knows the expectations will again be low, but he doesn’t care.

“Everybody knows we have expectations, and the fans have expectations, and that is all that matters,” he said.

Okafor will be a trendy choice for rookie of the year because he is expected to play major minutes.

“It’s definitely a possible goal,” he said about earning the award. “Definitely.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Michael Jordan is still the G.O.A.T., just ask Jimmy ButlerNancy Lieberman called Muhammad Ali after joining the Sacramento Kings as an assistant coach … Got cash? You’ll need plenty of it to buy the New York penthouse of former Brooklyn star Deron Williams

Morning shootaround — August 1

VIDEO: 2015 Basketball Without Borders Africa

Howard to Team USA camp | Just a start in Africa | Johnson won’t miss D-Will | NBPA files grievance
No. 1: Dwight Howard on road to Rio? — It looks like the old gang is getting back together. Dwight Howard is the latest big name to toss his hat into the ring for a spot on the USA Basketball team for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The Rockets center had to pull out of the 2012 Games in London due to back surgery, but Marc Stein of says Howard will join Houston teammate James Harden and a galaxy of other stars for what managing director Jerry Colangelo is calling a “mandatory” camp in Las Vegas Aug. 11-13:

Howard will join Rockets teammate James Harden and a slew of top stars on the campus of UNLV for two days of noncontact workouts and an intrasquad scrimmage on the night of Aug. 13.

Colangelo is billing the gathering more of a “reunion” than a typical full-speed USAB camp. But the fact that attendance is compulsory to be considered for a spot on the 12-man squad coach Mike Krzyzewski takes to Rio next summer is expected to attract more than 30 players to UNLV.

The following is an alphabetical listing of players who, according to sources, are known to have informed USAB they plan to attend the minicamp: Carmelo Anthony, Harrison Barnes, Bradley Beal, Michael Carter-Williams, Mike Conley, DeMarcus Cousins, Stephen Curry, DeMar DeRozan, Andre Drummond, Kevin Durant, Paul George, Draymond Green, Blake Griffin, Harden, Tobias Harris, Gordon Hayward, Howard, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Love, Victor Oladipo, Chandler Parsons, Mason Plumlee, Klay Thompson and Russell Westbrook.

In an interview this week with SiriusXM NBA Radio, Colangelo said he expects near-perfect attendance after extending invitations to an overwhelming majority of the 34 players who were in the program as of last September as well as a number of younger newcomers.

Although LeBron James’ attendance at the minicamp has not yet been confirmed, Colangelo told Sirius, “I think LeBron wants to be part of it [in 2016].”


No. 2: More big things on horizon for NBA in Africa — Saturday’s game featuring a slew of big name NBA stars in Johannesburg, South Africa is big. But it’s just a start. Imagine if the game could continue to grow exponentially from top to bottom throughout the large continent. Imagine if the NBA could harness that growing enthusiasm for basketball and turn it into millions and millions of Twitter users and dyed-in-the-wool fans. That’s the driving force behind the first game on the African continent, writes our own Shaun Powell, as the league looks toward the future:

Therefore, what’s the incentive for the NBA to spend time and resources on a continent where the hurdles are high and the interest, compared to other sports here, is low? Well, that’s easy. If Africa ever warms up to basketball, and that’s slowly happening, basketball will win big. And when basketball wins, the NBA wins. Call it an investment into the future.
But man, those hurdles …

“We have to build leagues, we have to get coaches, we have to train coaches, we have to build programs,” said Raptors GM Masai Ujiri, who is Nigerian-born and has stayed active in the cause for two decades. “It just doesn’t happen overnight.”

African interest in basketball is growing

The power brokers in basketball are undaunted. The alliance of FIBA and the NBA and sponsors such as Nike are forging ahead and they keep coming back. There’s just too much to gain, they feel, and too many people — just over a billion, actually — for Africa not to create good and great players. Again, this isn’t a continent the size of Australia. This is Africa. This is a billion. Even with shaky infrastructure, those are delicious odds.


No. 3: Departure of D-Will makes Johnson happy — Never mind all the rumors — many of them real — that the underachieving Nets were looking to move Joe Johnson and his whopping contract for next season. The word now coming out of the Brooklyn bunker, according to Nets Daily, is that the team is now expecting big things from the All-Star shooting guard. One of the big reasons is that Johnson is said to be much happier after the Nets bought out moody, mopey, discontented point Deron Williams. If harmony and happiness are cures, maybe there are sunnier days ahead in Brooklyn:

Moreover, various sources inside the Nets have suggested that the departure of D-Will is likely to help Johnson rebound. It was no secret that Brooklyn’s Backcourt didn’t get along.  That famous Johnson tweet back in early November was believed to be about his relationship with Williams.

One insider, asked after the buyout if the Nets were still pursuing a Johnson trade, firmly said no. He volunteered there was probably no one more pumped about the buyout than Johnson.  “I am sure Joe will have a tremendous season,” he added with a smile.

Johnson was indeed unhappy with the Nets situation, as he laid out the day after the season ended.

“Something’s going to happen. I don’t know what. I don’t see us coming back as the same team. This is my third year here. I could see if we were getting better each year, but it’s kind of been the opposite. So to not even be a .500 ball club in the East, it’s disheartening.”


No. 4: Mbah a Moute protests voiding of contract — The summer of turmoil for the Kings just seems to go on and on. The latest involves the free agent signing — and subsequent dropping — of Luc Mbah a Moute by Sacramento. Just two days after making a $1.5 million deal official with him, the Kings voided the contract because he didn’t pass their physical. As a result, the National Basketball Players Association plans to file a grievance against the Kings, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports. Perhaps small potatoes compared to repairing the rift between franchise player DeMarcus Cousins and coach George Karl, but just one more headache that president of basketball operations Vlade Divac doesn’t need:

Mbah a Moute has been meeting with NBPA executive director Michele Roberts in Johannesburg this week, where Mbah a Moute, a Cameroon native, has been medically cleared to play for Team Africa against Team World in the first NBA exhibition game in Africa.

Mbah a Moute signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal with Sacramento on July 14 – only two days later to have Kings officials inform him that concerns over his right shoulder had caused the franchise to void the deal, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Mbah a Moute’s representatives at Wasserman Media Group and NBPA officials, armed with independent medical examinations that produced playing clearances, are disputing the legitimacy of the Kings’ process and the findings to declare a failed physical, league sources told Yahoo Sports.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The defending champion Warriors give their bench a big boost by trading Gerald Wallace for Jason Thompson … Nancy Lieberman makes it official that she’s joining the Kings … Hawks’ Mike Scott arrested on drug charge … Jordan Hill nabbed for driving 107 mph … Michael Jordan’s last basket — literally — draws more than $41,000 in auction … Bernard James headed to China to play for Shanghai Sharks … Hedo Turkoglu would like to officially end his NBA career in Sacramento … Sasha Vujacic signs a one-year contract with the Knicks.

Report: Divac offers Peja job with Kings

Those were the best of times in Sacramento, when Vlade Divac was making passes out of the post to Peja Stojakovic to bury another 3-pointer and the cowbells were clanging and Arco Arena was rocking.

The Kings never quite got over the top or past the Lakers for Western Conference supremacy, but it was definitely fun to watch them play and to soak in the atmosphere.

Now it seems Divac wants to recapture some of the old spark and magic. According to Marc Stein of, Divac has asked his Serbian countryman and ex-Kings teammate to help him turn around their old NBA team by offering him a player personnel job with the franchise:

Sources said new Kings vice president of basketball operations Vlade Divac has asked his former NBA and international teammate Stojakovic to leave Europe and move back to the United States to assist him in a player personnel role.

Stojakovic’s No. 16 jersey was retired by the Kings in December. He attended Summer League in Las Vegas with the Kings in a consulting role to Divac earlier this month, but sources say a firm decision on whether the 38-year-old joins them on a permanent basis might not come before September.

Stojakovic, 38, was drafted by the Kings in 1996 and joined them as a player before the lockout-shortened 1999 season, which was also Divac’s first as a King. Together with Chris Webber and Jason Williams, Sacramento’s Serbian duo helped transform the franchise’s fortunes and made them one of the West’s strongest teams for a half-decade.

Morning shootaround — July 12

VIDEO: Porzingis’ Summer League debut

Opportunity for Okafor | Hammon makes history | Bargnani to Kings | Porzingis shines | Lillard stands ready

No. 1: Embiid loss changes rookie race — There are all sorts of implications that rise out of the news that Joel Embiid could miss another entire season following a second surgery to repair the broken bone in his foot. The biggest question, of course, is about the career of the Sixers big man. Does it mean another season of tanking in Philly? But Embiid’s loss could also open the door for this year’s top Sixer draft pick Jahlil Okafor to be the 2016 Rookie of the Year, according to our own Scott Howard-Cooper:

No Embiid means no crowded big-man rotation with second-year man Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor, and that means an unquestioned clear path for Okafor to probably have the featured role in the Sixers offense.

In the coldest terms, the crushing setback for Embiid is a prime opportunity for Okafor with the largest portion of minutes at center and power forward now being split two ways instead of three. Not only that the good possibility that Okafor will be able to score inside immediately makes him the ideal fit alongside Noel, an impact defender as a 2014-15 rookie but offensively challenged.

Tony Wroten led Philly in scoring last season at 16.9 points a game, and that was with just 30 appearances. Michael Carter-Williams was second, at 15 per, and he got traded. Okafor, with advanced post moves and a pro body at 6-11 and 270 pounds, will likely generate offense this season, and will absolutely have the chance.


No. 2: Hammon breaks another barrierBecky Hammon got a baptism by fire in her history making debut as head coach in the Las Vegas Summer League, drawing up a play for her Spurs in the final seconds. The last-second shot missed, but  it was Hammon’s latest step to break down barriers for women in sports. Our Shaun Powell was on hand to document the event and discuss the possible importance down the line:

She fit like any male coach in Vegas, the only difference being her voice was softer. Last season, as the junior coach on staff, Hammon sat behind the Spurs’ bench, not next to Gregg Popovich. But Pop put her in charge of the Vegas operation, partly because he felt comfortable enough with her, and also because Pop wants to advance the notion of a woman coaching in a men’s league.

Nobody’s quite sure where this is headed or how quickly. Will the NBA have its first female head coach in the foreseeable future? And if so, will she be Hammon? Coaching on the highest level can get very political. There are only 30 jobs and they don’t come easily even to experienced coaches; Hammon has never been a coach on any level until now. It’s about timing and networking and persistence and sometimes they’re not always in your favor.

But Hammon’s ace card is Pop, the winningest active coach in basketball; and by extension, the Spurs organization, regarded as the finest in all professional sports.

If Pop one day gives another team a glowing recommendation of Hammon, how could that team resist?

Before that happens, Hammon will need to work her way up the Spurs’ bench and sit next to Popovich for at least a year. The Hawks’ Mike Budenholzer, the reigning Coach of the Year, didn’t get his break until he served as Pop’s assistant for 16 years. Given the uniqueness of her situation, and the track record of the NBA as a progressive league, Hammon won’t need to wait that long once she gets the Popovich Blessing.

But first things first, as Lieberman said. Just getting to the point of coaching in the summer league qualifies as a breakthrough.

“She has such a great opportunity in front of her,” said Lieberman. “And it’s fantastic. They couldn’t have chosen anyone better than Becky. We’ve been friends for years and I’m so proud of her.”


No. 3: Kings closing in on Bargnani — If the smoking hole in the ground that has become of the Kings during offseason is going to be repaired at all, the team will need to put some shooters around center DeMarcus Cousins. To that end, Marc Stein of says the team is close to a deal with former No. 1 overall draft pick Andrea Bargnani that would take him to the Western Conference for the first time in his career:

The Kings are looking for additional shooting to surround big man DeMarcus Cousins, and have already imported former NBA 3-point shootout champion and fellow Italian Marco Belinelli in free agency, in addition to the looming signings of Rajon Rondo, Kosta Koufos and Caron Butler.

The Kings have also re-signed swingman Omri Casspi and, of course, selected Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein with the sixth overall pick in last month’s draft.

Bargnani has missed 160 games over the past three years with various injuries, but had a productive spell with the Knicks late last season to convince the Kings to extend his NBA career. The 29-year-old has struggled to live up to expectations since the Raptors selected him No. 1 overall in the 2006 draft.


No. 4: Porzingis solid in summer debut — The 19-year-old player that Phil Jackson made the No. 4 pick in the draft last month didn’t dominate in his first taste of NBA competition on Saturday. But Kristaps Porzingis was solid and competent enough to turn some of those draft night boos into cheers in a win over San Antonio at the Las Vegas Summer League. Frank Isola of the New York Daily News has the details:

It was the opposite of what I heard on draft night,” Porzingis said. “It was nice to hear some cheers out there.”
Porzingis, the player Phil Jackson selected fourth overall, didn’t dominate a team of mostly unknown and unproven San Antonio Spurs but the rookie certainly didn’t embarrass himself, that’s for sure. The 7-foot-3 forward finished with 12 points in the Knicks’ 78-73 win over the Spurs, who were coached by Becky Hammon and featured one player — Kyle Anderson — who was on San Antonio’s roster last year. Porzingis made three of five shots from the field, including a soft bank shot for his first basket with the Knicks. He also converted six of seven free throws but grabbed only three rebounds.

“I’m happy we won,” he said afterward. “It’s always good to win. I played physical so maybe I proved to some of the people who thought I was soft that I can play physical. It wasn’t my greatest game but I played OK.”
Jackson, the Knicks president, was seated along the baseline next to newly acquired forward Derrick Williams and several team officials, including general manager Steve Mills. In what has been a dreadful 16 months for Jackson, Porzingis’ first outing was by far the most positive development for the Jackson regime.

Porzingis played with confidence and had no issues with the pace of the game. His one glaring weakness is strength. The only thing in this town taller and thinner than Porzingis is a stripper pole. He can get away with that against the likes of Livio Jean-Charles and Cady Lalanne. The problem will arise when Tim Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge are the opposing starting center and power forward, respectively.


No. 5: Lillard says he’s up to the challenge — The last time Damian Lillard saw his Trail Blazers they had won 51 games, the Northwest Division title and still had a bright future as a playoff team in the rugged Western Conference. But in a blink-and-you-missed-it summer, Lillard turned back around to see a roster suddenly stripped of LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez. So the Blazers are, in essence, starting over. But Lillard tells Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports that he’s up to the challenge of leading the rebuilding job:

“We’re a young team,” Lillard said. “There are going to be ups and downs. But I’m not giving up on anything. I don’t doubt that we can still compete. We got a lot of young athletes. I don’t feel like it’s going to be me up there. I feel like we got guys capable of stepping up and doing more than they’ve done in the past.

“I don’t know how long it will take. I’m committed to the next six years to try to turn this around.”

Lillard has noticed plenty of people on social media disparaging the Blazers’ roster.

“I’ve been reading. Everything I worked for or received, nothing has been handed to me,” Lillard said. “I could take comfort in knowing that everything that happened isn’t by luck. It’s me working hard and me going after things, making it happen. Being doubted is not unfamiliar territory to me.”

With a new contract in hand, Lillard knows there will be pressure on him to lead the Blazers during their rebuilding. He said he never considered the possibility of attempting to leave Portland.

“Nope. I didn’t have a reason to,” Lilllard said. “I’m fully committed to playing in Portland. I’m committed to my teammates. I had no reason to wait. Not that it was about the money, but I’m not going to get any more money [later] than what I would get now. And what better way to show that commitment than doing that.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Timberwolves trade Chase Budinger to the Pacers…GM Billy Kings says it was just time for Deron Williams to leave the Nets…Aaron Harrison signs two-year deal with Hornets…Nuggets give Wilson Chandler multi-year extension.

Morning Shootaround — July 6

VIDEO: Pistons rookie Stanley Johnson is confident and focused on the challenge and his goals


Desperate Clippers target McGee, Stoudemire | Casspi sticking around in Sacramento’s overhaul | Joe Johnson to the Cavaliers? | Joseph’s homecoming more than just a good story | Don’t blame Aldridge for breakup with Trail Blazers

No. 1: Desperate Clippers target McGee, Stoudemire — Desperation has set in for the Los Angeles Clippers, much like it did late last week for the Los Angeles Lakers, in free agency. With DeAndre Jordan bolting for Dallas and the four-year, $80 million deal they offered, Doc Rivers and the Clippers are left to scour the big man market for a replacement. They’re not exactly fishing in the same waters that Jordan swam in last season for the Clippers, when he was building block in the middle for a championship contender. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports has more:

The Clippers, who lost center DeAndre Jordan to the Dallas Mavericks in free agency, are taking a strong look at [JaVale] McGee, league sources told Yahoo Sports. The Clippers have roughly $2.2 million in exception space left to pay a player beyond the league’s minimum salary slot of $1.4 million.

Rivers also is expected to speak with free agent Amar’e Stoudemire on Sunday, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Stoudemire strongly considered the Clippers before signing with the Dallas Mavericks after the New York Knicks agreed to a buyout of his contract in February. Stoudemire has interest with several teams, including the Clippers, Mavericks and Indiana Pacers, league sources said.

For McGee, the Clippers could be an opportunity with a contender to re-start his career. McGee had a couple promising years with the Washington Wizards and Denver Nuggets before injuries and inconsistent play limited him to just 28 games over the past two seasons. The Nuggets traded him, along with a first-round draft pick, to the Philadelphia 76ers midway through last season. He played in six games for the 76ers before being waived.

McGee, 27, was close to signing with the Boston Celtics last season, but wanted a player option for the second season to preserve his flexibility with this summer’s free-agent market.

McGee signed a four-year, $48 million contract with the Nuggets prior to the 2012-13 season.

In seven NBA seasons with the Washington Wizards, Nuggets and Sixers, McGee has averaged 8.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks.


No. 2: Casspi sticking around in Sacramento’s overhaul — Omri Casspi is one player who is apparently on board with the master plan in Sacramento. The veteran forward broke the news of his agreement on a deal to return to the Kings and continue working as a role player in a rotation headlined by DeMarcus Cousins, who is fond of his sweet-shooting forward (Casspi shot 40 percent from deep last season). Casspi handled the general news (via Twitter). This is just a small piece of the drastic overhaul Vlade Divac is trying to engineer. Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee provides some context:

The mandate for Vlade Divac was clear.

The Kings must improve drastically in 2015-16.

So the vice president of basketball and franchise operations has been overhauling the roster in an effort to boost the Kings from Western Conference doormat to playoff contender.

Adding point guard Rajon Rondo, small forward Marco Belinelli and center Kosta Koufos in free agency and drafting center Willie Cauley-Stein give the Kings a new look and appear to address the Kings’ biggest weaknesses.

Divac isn’t necessarily done. The Kings will try to add wing depth, which Sunday night entailed the re-signing of Omri Casspi, who confirmed via Twitter a two-year deal worth $6 million.

And All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins could be traded, as his issues with coach George Karl have not been resolved.

But as the roster is, the Kings expect to improve. Maybe not enough to make the playoffs but to win more than the 29 games they did last season.

With the new downtown arena set to open for the 2016-17 season, the Kings need an improved product to sell tickets.

The Kings wanted better passing, perimeter shooting and defense. Rondo was brought in to improve the passing and give Karl another ballhandler and facilitator.

Belinelli will be expected to help Sacramento’s shaky three-point shooting. Koufos and Cauley-Stein add depth, size and defensive versatility.

If Cousins stays, he and forward Rudy Gay are the only players certain to start. Divac has said Gay will play “a lot” of power forward this season, which necessitated adding another small forward.

Darren Collison was signed last summer to start at point guard, but with Rondo set to make $9.5 million next season, it seems unlikely the four-time All-Star will be a backup.

Karl wants to run more sets with two point guards, but Collison is only 6 feet, and Rondo is 6-1.

Ben McLemore started at shooting guard last season but could come off the bench or play small forward if Gay starts at power forward.


No. 3: Joe Johnson to the Cavaliers? — Don’t let that little detail of LeBron James not having agreed to a deal yet deter the Cleveland Cavaliers from doing his bidding. The reported interest in Brooklyn veteran swingman Joe Johnson is legitimate and a very real possibility, given the Cavaliers’ ability to make it happen with the existing contracts of one of their prized (and another not-so-prized) big men. Our numbers man John Schuhmann breaks it down:

A trade of Haywood (with a salary of $10.5 million for 2015-16) and Anderson Varejao ($9.6 million) for Johnson would work under the league’s trade rules. Haywood’s contract is completely non-guaranteed, so the Nets could waive him, erase that $10.5 million from their books and save almost $70 million next season ($19.5 million in salary and $49.1 million in luxury tax, because they would be subject to repeater levels).

Of course, Johnson has been a very good and very durable player for the Nets over the last three years. The deal represents a decision of saving money vs. competing for a playoff spot.

It also represents a choice between saving money this season and saving cap space for next summer. Johnson has just this coming season left on his contract, but Varejao has three more years left on his deal. His 2017-18 salary is completely non-guaranteed, but $9.4 million of his $10.4 million salary for 2016-17 is guaranteed and would eat into their 2016 cap space.

The Nets could trade Varejao for an expiring contract. One suggestion from the Twitterverse: Varejao to the Los Angeles Clippers (who are desperate for a center to replace DeAndre Jordan) for Jamal Crawford, who has just one year left on his deal at $5.7 million. (The Clippers would have to include an additional piece).

Of course, the Cavs could make that swap themselves if they choose not to go for Johnson, who would take their own luxury tax to the sky. They will surely have other options with Haywood’s non-guaranteed contract. But this deal would create one heck of a lineup.


No. 4: Joseph’s homecoming more than just a good story — The Raptors continued their summer revival with the addition of Cory Joseph, a native son formerly of the San Antonio Spurs. Joseph’s return to The North is more than just a good story, writes Michael Grange of the SportsNet:

At about 11:15 Sunday night Joseph announced to his 61,700 Twitter followers that he was leaving the San Antonio Spurs in free agency to sign with Toronto.

It was a simple message for an athlete who is known for his no-nonsense approach, but it spoke volumes about how far Canadian basketball has come and where it’s going. Joseph will be just the second Canadian to ever play for the Raptors, following Jamaal Magloire who suited up for one season at the end of his career.

He left as part of the first wave of elite Canadian basketball players who were convinced rightly or wrongly that if they wanted to make it to the top of the sport they needed to head to the United States as teenagers.

For Joseph it couldn’t have worked out better. He won national recognition at Findlay and a scholarship to the University of Texas, and in 2011 became the first Canadian guard to be drafted in the first round of the NBA draft since Steve Nash when the San Antonio Spurs took him 29th overall. He learned his craft in one of the most respected organizations in any sport and has a championship ring to show for it.

The difference is that while Magloire was an outlier, Joseph represents the front edge of the wedge. Masai Ujiri has always said he won’t put a passport ahead of talent when building his team, but the number and quality of Canadians coming into the NBA – eight first-round picks in the past five years with more coming – means that recruiting homegrown players could provide the Raptors a competitive advantage going forward.

Calls to the Raptors GM and Joseph’s agent Rich Paul weren’t immediately returned but Joseph has been on the Raptors radar for years now. It’s believed they tried to trade for him twice but were rebuffed by San Antonio.

According to ESPN’s Chris Broussard the Raptors let their money do the talking, with Joseph signing a four-year deal worth $30-million, a huge jump in salary for a career backup who has earned just $5.3 million total in his four NBA seasons.

Is it worth it?

The Raptors love Joseph’s defensive acumen. By their analysis he immediately becomes their best perimeter defender. Moreover they love the humility he brings to the job and his simple passion for his craft. He made a believer out of Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich when – as he was struggling for playing time as a rookie – he asked to be sent down to the NBA D-League to get some run.

But the Raptors see upside as well. The term of his deal extends past that of all-star Kyle Lowry’s, who will likely opt out of his contract two summers from now. While no one within the organization is prepared to declare Joseph ready to push Lowry as a starter, the dollars and term they gave him suggest they are betting that he’s still improving and could provide them an option there in time.


No. 5: Don’t blame Aldridge for breakup with Trail Blazers — The finger-pointing in Portland figures to go on for months, years even, in the aftermath of LaMarcus Aldridge’s decision to head home to Texas and the San Antonio Spurs in free agency. He said he wanted to be the best Trail Blazer ever, only to depart as soon as it became a possibility. There will no doubt be hard feelings, but John Canzano of the Oregonian insists Aldridge is not to blame for this breakup:

This all brings us back to the Blazers, ultimately. They have a difficult time attracting free agents. They’ve struggled with continuity. They have a general manager in Neil Olshey eager to make his draft picks shine, cementing his legacy. And I wasn’t surprised the news of Lillard’s five-year, $125-plus million contract extension was leaked on the opening day of free agency.

The Blazers had all summer to make that announcement. But it came on a day when a league record $1.4 billion in contracts were handed out in other NBA cities and — down deep — the Blazers knew Aldridge was a ghost.

Olshey long ago hitched the franchise wagon to Lillard. He drafted him in 2012, and when he became Rookie of the Year the following season, he was marketed and promoted to the point that it chapped Aldridge.

He was Bat Man. Lillard was Robin. Right? But the organization, led by Olshey’s own narrative, prematurely flip-flopped those roles. It cost them today.

I wrote a column two seasons ago about Portland alienating Aldridge by going too far with the Lillard-palooza. Aldridge reached and out told me how much he liked the column. The Blazers decided prior to last season that they’d spend Aldridge’s final season under contract celebrating his milestones, pitching him as the all-time Mr. Trail Blazer.

To their credit, Aldridge and Lillard worked well enough together on the court. They’re both too intelligent and socially aware to take their philosophical differences public. But they were co-workers, and not great friends. Those deeply entrenched in both camps told me on multiple occasions, basketball aside, that the two men were not huge fans of each other. Which only makes Lillard’s inability to get a face-to-face sit-down with Aldridge in that 11th hour trip to Los Angeles less shocking.

Aldridge and Lillard played together three seasons. Aldridge gave the Lakers and Kobe a few minutes of face time. He met with the Suns. He dined publicly with Gregg Popovich. Anyone else find it telling that Aldridge and Lillard didn’t even meet up? That he treated Lillard like the Knicks? That the franchise’s “Thing 1” and “Thing 2” weren’t in solid contact from the end of the season says a lot.

Even if Lillard and Aldridge had been tight, turning down the Spurs and the chance to finish your career in your home state would have been difficult. It’s why you can’t really blame Aldridge, can you? This is business, after all.

This break-up of the Blazers was bound to happen. You had Olshey’s players (Lillard, Meyers Leonard and CJ McCollum, in particular) and you had a leftovers from all the general managers of owner Paul Allen’s basketball past. Last season had the feel of a finale all along. That Popovich and the Spurs benefit from the chaos inside another NBA franchise should come as no surprise. Uniformity of vision is what sets the Spurs apart. It’s part of how he’s built an empire.

Olshey won’t much like this column. Neither will Lillard or even Aldridge. But as long as we’re handing out blame for the breakup of a team that won 50-plus games, what’s fair is fair.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Free agent fever is proving the value of “3 and D” skillsets  The Hawks continue the house cleaning by firing long-time training staffers … Oh, and Happy Birthday Pau Gasol …

Report: Kings reach deal with Koufos

The Kings and Kosta Koufos reached agreement on a four-year, $33-million contract Saturday, Marc Stein of reported, the third free-agent strike by Sacramento in two days.

Koufos, who has played for four teams in seven seasons, most recently the last two campaigns with the Grizzlies, will back up center DeMarcus Cousins and joins a big-man rotation in transition. Jason Thompson and Carl Landry were both traded to the 76ers, while the Kings spent their lottery pick on Willie Cauley-Stein, who begins summer league next week in Las Vegas with a good chance to become the opening-night starting power forward.

The Koufos deal, which can become official Friday, comes a day after the Kings agreed to terms with Rajon Rondo and Marco Belinelli.